Sa'dan Toraja people
Toraja, Sulawesi, Indonesia
Coffin in the shape of a water buffalo
19th-early 20th century
wood, buffalo horn
93.0 (h) x 229.0 (w) x 69.0 (d) cm
Musée du quai Branly, Paris
© 2010 Musée du quai Branly Photograph: Thierry Ollivier/Michel Urtado/Scala, Florence
In the Toraja region of Sulawesi, corpses of the deceased are placed into elaborately carved sarcophagi [erong] during the latter stages of the lengthy funeral rites. The coffins come in a variety of forms and are placed above the ground, in recent centuries at the base of towering limestone cliffs into which tombs are cut.
Created from large logs, the wooden erong take the shape of boats, houses, pigs and buffalo, serving as vehicles for the travel of the spirit of the dead to the Land of the Souls. The social rank of the family of the deceased determines the form of the erong. Based on hierarchies handed down from the original founding ancestors, boats are reserved for members of the local nobility, water buffalo are used for middle-rank land owners and pig-shaped coffins hold the bodies of people from lower ranking families.